Why my family lives to eat

How I connect with food in spite of my kitchen mishaps


Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

If cooking were a religion, my mother’s family would be its most dedicated worshippers. Over the years, our ritual of sitting down for special meals has become more complicated and revered, with each one becoming larger and more elaborate. My family’s love for food is unmatched. 

This appreciation likely comes from my family’s French heritage which my grandmother has continued through her knowledge of French and Southern food. She pours truffle oil in mac and cheese, substitutes cream for milk, prioritizes fresh vegetables from the garden over store bought ones and makes pies as casually as you’d make a PB&J for lunch. 

Over 10 years ago, I invited a friend over to my grandparents’ house for dinner, and she still raves about the creamed lima beans she ate that night. How many people can get a 7-year-old to gush about vegetables? 

While dozing off on couches after these dinners, my mother would smile and remark, “Some people eat to live and others live to eat — we fall under the second category.”  I only recently learned that this phrase carries a negative connotation, but we always viewed “living to eat” as the celebration of food. 

Eating involves more than the consumption of food, and because we must do it, it should be done in the best way possible. Living to eat taught me how to understand that meat does not come from an endless grocery store supply but from a previously living animal. It showed me that produce grown in a garden will always taste better, and that good food is worth spending a little more money when possible.

Here’s the catch — I can’t make any of the food I love. When I describe to my friends the feasts my grandmother can weave together with her dishes like strands on a tapestry, they exclaim that I should recreate the dishes. I always reply that I’ll eventually give them a shot, but I change the subject before I have to admit I’d have no idea where to start. 

I’m embarrassed about my clumsiness in the kitchen not only because I’ve passed the age where my skills can end at pouring jarred sauce over noodles, but because food is integral to French culture and my family. Friends have teased me for my lack of cooking skills because of this. Not only am I lacking an important adult skill, but I can’t participate in the hobby my family loves so much. 

I hold the apartment record for most times setting off the fire alarm, infamously making it blare even when there was nothing in the pan. I reached the peak of my cooking failures when I gave myself an almost second-degree burn with a microwavable cup of Annie’s Mac and Cheese in my dorm. The hot noodles stuck to my leg when I accidentally tipped the cup onto my lap, leaving a scar that covered a third of my thigh. Don’t worry — it faded, and I laugh about it now. 

The worst part is that I’m not bad at cooking — I can make crêpes that taste like they came off of Parisian food carts, and I have mastered the art of baking chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, I can’t live off of crêpes and cookies, and it’s my own fault I can’t make more than that. 

Although I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I’ve decided to learn just one or two recipes a month and work my way up to the rich French dishes my grandma seems to conjure up magically. My goal is to be able to recreate the dinners with ease, thus continuing the long-held tradition. Until then, I’ll be carefully handling my Annie’s Mac and Cheese.

Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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